Excerpt from Without Tears and other Tales
“Claude, you mentioned that you are a bush pilot,” DeWitt remarked.
“Yes my friend, I am.”
“You must have hair-raising adventures at times.”
“I sure do,” Carrol admitted.
“Would you care telling us some of them?” asked Moider.
Carrol looked up. His face took on an arcane expression, as if to say, “I know you are not going to believe it, but I will tell you anyway.”
Pointing to his forehead he said:
“Do you see this ugly scar?”
When both nodded, he continued:
“This eyesore will always remind me of the most memorable experience I ever had. Do you want to hear it?”
“Most certainly,” they said simultaneously.
Carrol cleared his throat prior to his amazing narrative.
“Believe it or not, but here it is: As a bush pilot my main routes are in northern Quebec. Beyond Shefferville neither roads nor trains exist. I have flown over terrain and landed in places that no magnifying glass can find on any map. The region is called Nouveau Quebec, it stretches from Hudson Bay in the west to the great drainage divide eastward, which also happens to be the border between Labrador and Quebec.”
“Isn’t that border in dispute?” interrupted Moider.
“It might be, but battling howling winds and drifting snow nine months of the year, moreove, fighting off bloodsucking insects the remaining three, leaves little time for heeding lines on a chart. Anyway to continue my story.
“One early morning in spring I took off from Shefferville, pointing the nose of my little plane northward to Fort Chimo on the Koksoak River, a run of about two hundred and fifty kilometres. It was a clear, crisp day, a joy to one’s bosom to be up in the air. True, the land lay still under a blanket of snow farther north, lakes and rivers were covered with ice, but the sun was tickling my nose and laughing down at me, making my heart beat quicker. Singing songs of my childhood and youth occupied me to such a degree that it distracted my thoughts from the weather.
“Turning my head away from the sun, I should have recognised the signs of an approaching menace. However, I paid no heed. After all the sun, quite high now, shone with undiminished brightness. In any case I should have been no more than twenty miles from my destiny.
“Suddenly the settlement of Fort-Chimo disappeared before my eyes. That was not all, far from it. Minutes later I saw what looked like a bank of clouds pushing towards me, no doubt originating over the shores of the dreaded Hudson Bay. I knew that sign well, no mistake about it.”
“You got into a storm?” inquired Moider.
“Let me tell you, it could hardly have been worse. That ominous wall of visible vapour seemed to be poised at my little plane, as if singling me out for punishment. As expected, the wind needed no special invitation, I soon felt buffeted about like a nutshell in choppy water. Then came the snow, which hardly surprised me, for as mentioned, I knew the indications.
“Soon swirling flakes danced around me like a million sneering white devils of Wallachia set to do mischief. There remained only one thing to do: that is diving and landing. Now, you gents probably are aware of the first tenet of a bush pilot.”
Both shook their heads while saying:
“No, what is it?”
“When in trouble, look, see and land. Don’t ever climb onto the wings of hope that you think might carry you to greener pastures, it seldom happens. Tip the nose of your plane, say a short prayer, and down you go. That is what I did. Luck was on my side, I detected a wind-blown swath on the frozen Koksaok. It seemed almost bare of snow. Flying practically into the eye of the storm made an approach relatively safe, albeit not the landing.”
“Oh, what happened?” interjected Moider.
“I hit a few moguls.”
“What are they?” asked DeWitt?”
“Little wind tamped mounds of snow as hard as ice. I tell you fellows, I crashed right into them.”
“That is how you sustained your head wound, I suppose,”
“Yes, although I can’t recall any details, since I passed out after the first few jolts. When I woke up it was pitch dark. Trying to rise from my seat proved impossible, I felt like having been run over by a Juggernaut, and not only once. Meanwhile a full blown blizzard howled outside; inside cowered a moaning pilot beseeching all saints of La Belle Province to save him. Every bone in my body seemed to be fractured, if not broken. I was in a dither, but I survived.”
“As can be seen,” remarked DeWitt.
Carroll eyed him visibly pleased, for he liked a wag.
“When I woke up after fourteen hours, I had a distinct feeling of being observed. Forcing my eyes to open fully, I perceived a figure scurrying away from my bed, and disappearing through the open doorway. Even in my drowsy state, despite the fact of having seen the shape but a fleeting moment from behind, I could have sworn it was Mrs Zinner, the professor’s wife.”
“Aha Claus, she was probably attracted by your handsome face,” kidded Moider.
Carrol shook his head.
“Nothing doing, I must have looked uglier than the famed philosopher Khorassan who walked around forever veiled. I’m not exactly a beauty at best of times, therefore considering my bruised and battered face, unkempt head and overgrown beard, no woman of any age would have given me a second look.”
“Perhaps your plight awakened her womanly pity,” suggested DeWitt.
“Then why did she practically flee at the moment I woke up?”
“What happened after?” Moider inquired, sensing a ticklish development.
“I tell you, Mrs Zinner showered me with attention, but always furtively. It perplexed and embarrassed me at the same time. Soon I became reluctant to raise my head in her presence, yet was unable to resist an urge to do so. Her surreptitious glances, never obtrusive, rather contemplative, accelerated my pulse, moreover, disquieted my conscience. What could this woman, attractive no doubt despite her age, possibly want from or see in me? More than one thought raced through my head; some unworthy I have to admit, others too bizarre to repeat. Remember that was ten years ago, when I was still a young man, vain as a coxcomb and equally brash.”
They were now listening with increasing attention, spurring him on silently with appealing glances and suggestive gestures. Carrol needed no invitation, for he had much more to tell.
“Professor Zinner sure knew his trade; though not inclined to pamper his patient, namely me, he had a delicate but firm touch. Wincing or crying out deterred him not in the least, he just continued his vigorous treatment. I remarked after one of his examinations:
‘Thanks to you professor I will soon be on my feet again and continue my journey.’
‘Not so soon, Mr Carrol, perhaps in ten days or two weeks,’ he advised in his quaint French, rolling the ‘r’ like only a German can. Although I knew the answer I asked him anyhow, just to make conversation you will understand.
‘How far from Fort-Chimo are we?’
‘Almost ten kilometres down river,’ I was told.
‘I suppose my plane has seen its day,’ I stated more than asking.
‘It looks a wreck to me, but wait till you are mobile again and convince yourself.’